hard rock

#662: Wingers of Destiny

DOUBLE FEATURE! Check out Deke’s Winger story at Stick It In Your Ear!

GETTING MORE TALE #662:  Wingers of Destiny

A highschool guy named Rob Petersen recommended Winger to me. Rob was one of the only kids with long hair. I was so jealous of him. He had the Rick Allen curls and everything. Girls thought he was cute. I thought maybe some of his cool could rub off on me. Luckily I sat next to him in Mr. Lightfoot’s history class.

The year was 1989 and the easiest way for me to check out new bands was via the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.

I recorded the music video for “Seventeen”, which was OK, but didn’t particularly stand out.  Kip Winger’s abs did.  Towards the end of the video, he did this weird thrusty-dance with his bass.  This is memorable to me because the tape that “Seventeen” was on, was also used for a school video project.  I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison with friends, for a school award.  I recorded my copy on the same tape as “Seventeen” — immediately after it, actually.  When we presented the video to the film teacher, she caught the tail end of “Seventeen”, and Kip’s thrust.  “Oh,” I heard her comment, and I sensed it was more disgust than titillation.

Kip Winger mid-thrust

Despite their image, Winger possessed a rare rock pedigree.  Classically trained bassist and singer Charles “Kip” Winger was fresh from Alice Cooper’s band, as was keyboardist Paul Taylor.  Kip also performed on Twisted Sister’s Love is for Suckers LP in 1987, with future bandmate Reb Beach.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein was an alumnus of Steve Morse’s Dixie Dregs.  Yet all these massive players went and made a commercial hard rock album with, let’s face it, pretty juvenile lyrics at times.

It’s hard not to be critical of Winger for this.  Knowing what these guys are capable of, the debut album Winger seems like pandering.  They did sneak in a few progressive hints, such as a string quartet on “Hungry”, but the impression was that they were just another hard rock band with big hair and candycane hooks.  They were underachieving, from a certain point of view.

Winger was in the batch of the first CDs I ever got, for Christmas of 1989.  This was based almost entirely on Rob Petersen’s raving.  Another reason I chose it was the “CD bonus track”!  One of the incentives for buying a CD player was to finally get songs that were only on the CD release.  I had mixed impressions.  The first “side” was decent but the second was a little filler-heavy.

I’m sad to admit this, but Winger’s version of “Purple Haze” was the first time I ever heard the song.  Ozzy’s version was the second.  Go ahead, judge me.

Winger could have taken it further on their second album.  In a way, they did:  progressive songs and complex rhythms stood alongside the pop rock tracks.  While they advanced in that regard, they took a step backwards in another.  Some songs were even dumber:  “Can’t Get Enough” for example, was a transparent re-write of “Seventeen”, and the ballads were dreck.  Worst of all was Kip’s very unnecessary rapping on “Baptized by Fire”.

Yet two songs, “Rainbow in the Rose” and “In the Heart of the Young” (the title track) were so far above and beyond the pack, they could have come from a different album.  These two epics drip of the kind of progressive rock you know these guys can play.  Yet they kept it radio accessible, somehow, even while Rod Morgenstein is playing rhythms my brain can barely compute.

While Winger II charted higher and sold as well as the first, 12 months later it was hopelessly outdated by the birth of grunge.  Winger then fell victim to two of the 90s greatest antiheroes, Beavis and Butt-Head.  A black Winger shirt was worn by nerd character Stewart, and the band were repeatedly mocked.  This eventually killed Winger off as a business.  Gigs dried up.  Fortunately for fans, Kip Winger and Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head recently had a make-up session. Even Kip admitted, “Winger was a band that was popular for some of the wrong reasons, man.”

The third album, Pull, is a reference to skeet shooting.  Kip knew that for all the chances they had, they may as well throw the album into the air and take shots at it.  “Pull!”

It was a lose-lose situation and both Winger and the public lost by Pull‘s commercial failure.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had left, and so Pull features less of the instrument and a far heavier sound.  Taylor was eventually replaced by John Roth, a guitarist.  The message was pretty clear.  Pull featured some of Winger’s best tracks:  “Down Incognito”, “Blind Revolution Mad”, “Junkyard Dog”, and “Who’s the One”.  Had Pull come out in 1990 instead of 1993, things would have gone very differently.  Instead, Winger broke up.

The happy news is that like many bands, Winger reunited (the John Roth lineup occasionally with Paul Taylor as a fifth member), and started putting out albums again.  Good ones, too.  Their last Better Days Comin’ is pretty great.

As further proof of Winger’s greatness, Reb Beach went from there to Alice Cooper, completing the circle.  Winger, after all, was originally founded by two ex-Cooper players.  He was then picked to replace George Lynch in Dokken.  And Kip?  His 30 minute symphony “Ghosts” should speak for itself.

Those who are curious but sceptical should check out Winger’s Pull, and the albums that followed.  Go ahead and wing it!


REVIEW: Helix – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007)

HELIX – The Power of Rock and Roll (2007

When Helix seemingly dropped off the map in the mid 90’s, I didn’t think they’d ever really come back with more studio albums. Yet they did thanks to the power of the internet. The Power Of Rock And Roll is a return to roots of sorts, after the alternative stylings of 2004’s Rockin’ in My Outer Space. This is a throwback to the basic guitars/bass/drums/shredding vocals of the Helix of yore!  “It’s a party that’s better than a beer, it’s a party in your ear!”  That’s their modus operandi on “Fill Your Head With Rock”, a song they wrote for the Sweden Rock festival.  They named it after the Kim Mitchell song of the same title, also recorded for Sweden Rock.

The Power Of Rock And Roll is essentially a reissue of the earlier seven song EP, Get Up! with five additional tracks added. If you already have Get Up! (which is now out of print), you still need The Power Of Rock And Roll because those five new songs are just awesome. Wait until you hear the power of “Nickels And Dimes”, an awesome track with a great chorus.  “Eat My Dust” might be the fastest song Helix has ever done.  “The Past Is Back (To Kick Your Ass)” is truly a statement of purpose. And kick your ass, this album will!

Personal favourite:  “Get Up!”  Can’t get enough of that chorus!  “We don’t need a reason to party, so get up get up!”  The first time I heard “Get Up!” was when Helix opened for Alice Cooper in Kitchener in early 2006.  It was a brand new song, but instantly memorable.  Brian Vollmer noticed I was in the second row singing along to the chorus.  He came down and slapped my hand!

Guitars are by session musician Steve Georgakopoulos who used to play Ace Frehley in the London tribute band Alive. As such, you may notice some very Ace-like bends and licks. Steve co-wrote every song on this album with Vollmer and Gord Prior (ex-Blu Bones). The only thing that I disliked about this album is that then-current members of the live Helix band doesn’t play on it. Rick VanDyk (ex-legendary Kitchener band Zero Option), Jim Lawson, Brent “Ned” Niemi, and Paul Fonseca did not appear, although they’d play everything live. In their stead are the aforementioned Steve Georgakopoulos on guitar, ex-Sven Gali drummer Rob MacEachern, and ex-Helix bassist Jeff “Stan” Fountain. I guess this is fine — these guys have a longstanding relationship with Helix. MacEachern even later joined the band in 2009. They’re all studio pros, and the album does not suffer for it. It’s just a personal taste thing. I prefer the members of the band to play on the albums. I’m traditional that way.

There’s a bonus track, a remake of the hit “Heavy Metal Love” which is almost as great as the original. Casual listeners might not even notice the difference. This was done to coincide with the use of the song in the first Trailer Park Boys movie.

If you’ve ever been a Helix fan, you will be delighted and pleasantly surprised by The Power Of Rock And Roll. Every single song kicks, no ballads. It is pure, raw, well recorded, well played, and Vollmer signs his ass off.

4.5/5 stars

Notice the Japanese symbol for “power” on the back?

REVIEW: Helix – Long Way to Heaven (1985)

HELIX – Long Way to Heaven (1985 Capitol Records)

Helix’s fifth album was an important one.  They were following the “big hit” album (Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge) and there were expectations.  The band collected another batch of original material and hit the studio with producer Tom Treumuth again.

1985’s Long Way to Heaven is the second album with the “classic” Helix lineup:  Brian Vollmer, Brent “the Doctor” Doerner, Paul Hackman, Greg “Fritz” Hinz and Daryl Gray.  All but drummer Fritz contributed songs, with Vollmer, Hackman and Doerner leading the pack.

The two singles were the opening tracks.  “The Kids Are All Shakin’” is a catchy for American radio play.  It has always been a damn fine song.

Down in New York City,
All the way to L.A.,
Boys and girls are gonna shake it,
Yeah, each and every day.

There’s also a reference to a fan letter from Poland that was a big deal to the band at the time.  “Kids Are All Shakin’” is a great rock and roll celebration, but the single version with additional keyboards is better.

The other single was the hit acoustic/electric ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife” written by Hackman and Bob Halligan, Jr.  To this day it remains one of, if not the very best ballad Helix have done.  It has atmosphere and bite, and a killer vocal performance by Brian Vollmer.

There are good tracks after the first two, but nothing quite as memorable.  “Ride the Rocket” (Vollmer/Halligan) is fun but silly.  I’m sure you can guess what kind of rocket Brian is singing about when he says “Reach in the pocket”.  Other decent songs include the title track, which has a great chorus melody, and the heavy-as-fuck “House on Fire”.  There’s also another ballad called “Without You (Jasmine’s Song)” that is worthy of praise.

There is nothing wrong with any of the other tunes, and some have some pretty cool moments.  “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” has a nifty a cappella section that proves what great vocalists the band are.  It’s just that none of the other songs really have a lot of staying power in the brain.

Long Way to Heaven was one of those follow-ups that was good enough, but always remain in the shadow of the more successful predecessors.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Sound of A (2018 EP)

ALICE COOPER – The Sound of A (2018 Ear Music EP)

“The Sound of A” is in the air…but it took 50 years to get there!

Alice Cooper’s Paranormal was one of the most delightful rock releases of 2017, which really came as no surprise.  Alice has been consistently awesome for several albums in a row.  Any time he works with producer Bob Ezrin, you can count on quality.  The new five track Sound of A EP is quality.

The song “The Sound of A” was written in 1967 by Alice and bassist Dennis Dunaway.  When Cooper reunited with members of the original band for some songs on Paranormal, Dunaway suggested revisiting “The Sound of A”.  With Bob Ezrin’s help, “The Sound of A” has become another in a long line of understated Cooper classics.  It has the sound of Welcome to My Nightmare with a hint of the present.  Another apt (but coincidental) comparison would be “Journey of 1,000 Years” by Kiss.

“The Sound of A” is packaged with four unreleased live songs:  “The Black Widow”, “Public Animal #9”, “Is It My Body” and “Cold Ethyl”.  Of these, the real treat is “Public Animal #9”, an old School’s Out favourite that has never seen release on any Alice live album.  This is from Columbus Ohio in May 2017.  As is often the case, “The Black Widow” is shortened live, but “Public Animal” is damn fine.  Can you believe it took this long to get a live version?  It’s one of the best on School’s Out, albeit in the shadow of a big hit.  Even “Cold Ethyl” is hard to find live.  You can locate it on 2011’s No More Mr. Nice Guy via Concert Live, and the semi-official Extended Versions and Alone in His Nightmare.

Don’t miss The Sound of A.  Consider it a live EP with some stuff you’ll be glad to have.

4/5 stars

#658: Wanted Dead or Alive

Happy belated birthday to this single, released March 3 1987!


GETTING MORE TALE #658: Wanted Dead or Alive

I didn’t care for Bon Jovi. They seemed like a “girls’ band”. It seemed to be all about the screaming ladies. I did like Europe. “The Final Countdown” was a pretty cool anthemic track, with a sci-fi lyric. The rock press were pitting one band against the other: “Who’s better, Bon Jovi or Europe?” I took Europe every time.

Besides, what the hell was a “Bon Jovi” anyway?*  Bon means “good”.  “Good Jovi to you, sir!”

I continued to ignore Bon Jovi, while receiving Europe’s The Final Countdown as a gift for Easter 1987. The album took a couple listens to get into, but once I did, “Rock the Night”, “Ninja” and especially “Cherokee” blew me away. Europe weren’t a “girls’ band” to me, with songs about Ninjas and Cherokees.

My sister and her friends loved Bon Jovi. One of them had a crush on keyboardist David Bryan. I thought he looked weird, like he had gummy worms in his hair. I remember they were writing “BON JOVI” and “DAVID BRYAN” in the sand at the beach. I erased it and changed it to “BON SCOTT” and “BRIAN JOHNSON”. Take that, eh? No wonder I thought Bon Jovi were a “girl’s band”. Anyone who had a younger sister at the time probably thought so too.

Considering that I own an extensive Bon Jovi collection now (Richie Sambora era only), something must have changed. What was it?

Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote a song together in Richie’s mom’s basement. It was an acoustic song called “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. When I saw the music video in July of 1987, it changed all my impressions.

That 12 string acoustic rang true, on a song that deserves all the awards, video play and accolades. Something about the song was very real. Writing in that New Jersey basement about the road life was about as honest as Bon Jovi get, and you can hear it in the recording. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” turned me around rather quickly. I taped the video, and from there put “Wanted” on a cassette tape. The cassette tape had a lot of new songs from the summer of ’87: Ace Frehley’s “Into the Night”, and Ozzy’s live “Crazy Train” were among those tracks. Eventually I had to get all those albums.

I received the Frehley and the Ozzy for my birthday. I bought Bon Jovi later on in September. By then, I was familiar with all the singles and a track called “Raise Your Hands” from the movie Spaceballs. I just had to digest the album tracks.

Slippery When Wet was…OK, I guess. Not as good as The Final Countdown was.  Not all it was hyped to be, but good enough. “Social Disease” was pretty bad. Slippery struck me as a couple songs short of a great album. Good enough, though, to hang on ‘til the next one.

1988’s New Jersey was the next one. It seems they ditched 80% of the schlock and really tried to get back to their roots. I loved New Jersey and it was my first Bon Jovi CD once I had a player. Whatever authenticity they had on “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” spilled all over New Jersey.

“Wild is the Wind”, “Blood on Blood”, “Ride Cowboy Ride”, “Stick to Your Guns”, and “Homebound Train” had the magic. There is something real and close to perfect about those songs. Bon Jovi put out an album soaked in passion, as opposed to the sterile and clean Slippery When Wet. It didn’t match the 12 million copies sold of Slippery, but New Jersey was so slouch at 7 million.

It’s funny to be using words like “integrity” when speaking of Bon Jovi today. They’ve become an adult contemporary project; no longer a rock band. “Wanted” was their first acoustic hit and it’s often considered one of the landmark ballads of the era. In many respects, the lite-rock Bon Jovi of today was forged by “Wanted”. But that doesn’t tarnish the song itself. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is still fantastic. Even better is the 1987 acoustic version, only available on cassette single (or Japanese CD single).

You can go ahead and scoff at Bon Jovi, in light of the last 10 or even 20 years. They’re a mere fraction of the group they used to be. Yet “Wanted: Dead or Alive” still stands as a high water mark that any band would be jealous to have.



*Real name:  Jon Bongiovi

#656: The One They Call Dr. Feelgood

GETTING MORE TALE #656: The One They Call Dr. Feelgood

Hard rock peaked in the summer of 1989 with Dr. Feelgood. The charts were already filled with hard rock acts. Warrant were picking up steam. White Lion and Winger were getting airplay. Bon Jovi and Def Leppard were still raking it in with their last albums, New Jersey and Hysteria. Aerosmith were back. All we needed was the return of Motley Crue.

The Crue were not exactly laying low, but they did have problems to resolve. Nikki Sixx “died” of a heroin overdose on December 23 1987, but was revived with a shot of adrenaline right to the heart. Then he had to deal with a lawsuit from an imposter named Matthew Trippe, who claimed he took over the role of “Nikki Sixx” in 1983 and was owed royalties. Both these incidents inspired new songs. “Kickstart My Heart” was about by the overdose and subsequent recovery. “Say Yeah” took a shot at Matthew Trippe and that whole strange situation.

Fearing the band would end up dead if he did nothing, manager Doc McGhee sent the band into rehab (except for Mick Mars who quit drinking on his own accord). Then, a clean Motley Crue headed up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver to work with Bob Rock for the first time.

Bob Rock was on a roll. He finished up the soon-to-be-mega-successful Sonic Temple for The Cult and was recognized for the sound he was able to capture, particularly on the drums. He was also excellent at playing babysitter with musicians who were notoriously hard to work with. To minimize infighting, Rock split Motley up and had them all record separately. And because Aerosmith were in town recording Pump, Steven Tyler dropped by. He offered support for the newly clean band, and vocals on a new track called “Slice of Your Pie”.

The Crue’s first gig clean and sober was the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August of 1989. Although they had finished a new album, they played no new songs, saving them for proper release and promotion. Instead they played oldies from Girls, Girls, Girls, Theater of Pain, Shout at the Devil and Too Fast For Love. It was anything but peaceful. The gig, organized by McGhee, had been pitched to the bands involved as an equal opportunity. Bon Jovi, who McGhee also managed, were arguably the best known in Russia, as they were the only one with an official release there. They were booked to play last, but McGhee stressed there was no “headliner”. There was already friction between bands, because Ozzy Osbourne felt he should have been the headliner. Black Sabbath were massively popular with Russian rock fans, although they had to scour bootleg markets to find any.

Vince Neil live at the Moscow Music Peace Festival 08/12/1989 – Robert D. Tonsing/AP

Things came to a head when Bon Jovi featured pyro in their set, which none of the other bands had. Motley Crue interpreted this as favouritism towards Bon Jovi. Tommy Lee responded by ripping the shirt off Doc McGhee’s back. Motley Crue fired him and headed home on their own.

This drama did nothing to defuse Motley Crue’s momentum. Their new album Dr. Feelgood was released on September 1 1989, eventually going #1 and spawning five hit singles.

Meanwhile back in Canada, I was following all the Motley news with great anticipation. A Hit Parader magazine interview implied that Dr. Feelgood was so ambitious, it might even turn into a concept album. In fact the band had so many new songs that a second album, called Motley Crue: The Ballads was considered for 1990 release. The concept at that point was to do a new Motley Crue studio album that was all-heavy, no ballads. The softer songs would be saved for the second LP. Ultimately they got cold feet and realised putting out an album with no ballads in 1989 was commercially stupid, and so Dr. Feelgood was released with a mixture of tracks – the best 10 songs and one intro.

“Dr. Feelgood” was the first single, and it dominated airwaves just as summer holidays were ending. It, and “Love in an Elevator” by Aerosmith were absolutely everywhere. “Feelgood” had the edge with me, due to its massive drum sound and serious vibe. Bob Rock captured what might have been the biggest drum sound since Zeppelin, or Creatures of the Night by Kiss. Either way, Motley and Aerosmith really put Little Mountain Sound on the map as the studio to beat.

I tried to catch “Feelgood” on the radio and record it, but failed. Instead I bought the cassette single at the local Zellers store. Considering how many tracks the band worked up for Feelgood, I hoped they would be releasing non-album B-sides. They did not. Instead, “Feelgood” was backed by “Sticky Sweet”, probably the weakest album track.

I wondered what happened to all those unreleased songs that Hit Parader mentioned. “Say Yeah” was not on the album or singles. Neither were “Get It For Free” or “Rodeo”.  (We’d have to wait another 10 years for them to be issued on the “Crucial Crue” remastered series.)  A CD could hold almost 80 minutes of music, but Dr. Feelgood was the standard 45 minutes long. Since CDs were so expensive at the time, some fans argued “You have room, so put all the tracks on there and give us the value for our money.” Of course, this attitude changed later on, when listeners realised that albums with lots of extra filler were not as much fun to listen to. And, sadly, the unreleased Motley songs were pretty much filler. The stuff that went on Dr. Feelgood was as good as they had.

Dr. Feelgood was one of the first CDs I ever got, on Christmas Day 1989, along with my first CD player. The sonics of the album were everything they were hyped to be, but what really impressed me were the silences of compact disc. I was used to tape hiss. As “Time For Change” slowly faded out to nothing, I cranked the volume to 10. It was amazing to hear the fadeout clearly, without the tape hiss that had become part and parcel of music listening.

The album earned some great reviews for its sound, songs and even some of the lyrics. “Time For Change” revealed a new more mature direction. “Kickstart My Heart” took a serious subject and made it inspiring without wimping out. “When I get high, I get high on speed, top fuel funnycar’s a drug for me.” Some called it Motley’s best album, and still hold it as such.

As the album rocketed up the charts, Motley embarked on an 11 month tour. Most of the new album received live attention, with five songs being part of the regular set. One person who was paying attention to this was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Lars fell hard for the Motley drum sound, and sought out Bob Rock to produce their next album too. The rest is history. Like Motley before them, Bob Rock helped push Metallica into the upper echelons.

On Monday June 18 1990, Motley Crue headlined at the SkyDome in Toronto. The following day, June 19, the highschool halls were flooded with Motley Crue T-shirts. Where were all these “fans” last year when I seemed to be about one of two people in school who liked Motley Crue? It was always so bizarre to see concert shirts on people who never expressed interest in the band.  All those girls who always seemed to say, “I hate Montley Crue”!

What goes up, must come down. Motley relapsed after partying too hard with the Skid Row guys. Infighting ramped up. As the band were set and poised to top Dr. Feelgood with something truly special, they fired Vince Neil. It was as if they were handed the keys to the kingdom, to promptly throw them off the mountain. Although their 1994 album with John Corabi is a monster (and possibly their all-time best), as a commercial entity, Dr. Feelgood was never surpassed.  It eventually sold over six million copies.

We’ll have to see how Motley portray it in their movie The Dirt, but the truth is that Dr. Feelgood was a one-off mega-success story they’d never repeat.

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of (1996)

MR. BIG – Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of (1996 Atlantic)

The mid-90s were the time that every hard rock band in the world released a greatest hits.  Why?  Most of them either split, got dropped by the label, or both.  Tesla, King’s X, Slaughter, Extreme, and Mr. Big are among the sidelined bands whose labels released a greatest hits mid-decade.

Big’s at least had four unreleased tracks, topping off 12 familiar cuts from their first four albums.  Three of the songs were newly recorded.  Unfortunately, the label stacked a bunch of ballads and made this disc really hard to finish in one sitting.  The running order and track selection is a little wonky.

“Addicted to that Rush” is the jet-speed opener, as it should be.  Big’s 1989 debut was instrumentally thrilling but light on hits.  A so-so album track, “Rock & Roll Over” should probably have been left off.  Lean Into It (1991) was the big one.  “To Be With You” sits at track 4, because the CD is chronological, but the song has always worked better in the closing position.  Placing it at track 4 is anticlimactic.  Lean Into It spawned three more singles, all present:  “Green Tinted Sixties Mind“, “Just Take My Heart”, and “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy”.  This spurt of songs is a bit too soft.  Two are ballads, one a pop track, leaving only one to instrumentally smoke you.  That’s unfortunate because their cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” is next in the pack.  Though it is a fabulous and underappreciated cover, it’s too much mush at the start of the CD.

A buyer who picks this CD up as their first and only Mr. Big purchase will assume they are just another pop rock band.  Another Bon Jovi, another Warrant.  Though there are some serious moments of instrumental shreddery, that side of the band is too overlooked.  “Colorado Bulldog” from 1993’s Bump Ahead is about the only remaining song with that kind of force.  This is why suits shouldn’t compile CDs.  Their studio albums are more balanced.

Unfortunately, none of the four unreleased songs are spectacular.  The acoustic ballad “Seven Impossible Days” is from a Japanese EP called Japandemonium.  The other three are new recordings.  “Not One Night” is another acoustic ballad.  Sonically beautiful, but it’s too much saccharine.  “Unnatural” isn’t a ballad per se, but it is mostly acoustic (and features the lead vocals of guitarist Paul Gilbert).  “Stay Together”, which is a dead ringer for vintage Van Hagar, is probably the best of these four songs.

Big, Bigger, Biggest! The Best Of Mr. Big does not represent the Mr. Big that fans have known all these years.  Their favourite songs are rarely the ballads.  Too many killer deep cuts are missing, and, I hate to sound like a broken record, there are too many ballads!

2.5/5 stars


REVIEW: John Corabi – One Night in Nashville (2018)

JOHN CORABI – One Night in Nashville (2018 RatPak)

John Corabi needs no introduction in these pages.  We have ranted and raved about the awesome 1994 Motley Crue album and the complimentary Quaternary EP.  We’ve broken down the details of his departure from Motley Crue and the chaos that followed.  We’ve also gone on record loving the Union project with Bruce Kulick.  In short, John Corabi can’t really do much wrong in our books.

One Night in Nashville is John’s live run-through of the entire Motley Crue album with his ace band, including his son Ian on drums.  Many of these songs have never been played live, and never in sequence like this.  Veteran producer Michael Wagener ensured a kickass sound.

Ian Corabi has no problem duplicating Tommy Lee’s hard hitting style on opener “Power to the Music”.  John’s voice is still more than capable of shredding these songs two decades later.  His rasp and power have barely ebbed.  Compare this to Motley Crue’s final live album The End and…actually, no don’t compare.  Corabi buries The End.

As fellow rock reviewer Mr. Deke has stated, “Uncle Jack” is one of the most pounding tracks on this CD.  It was a departure for Motley Crue, a deadly serious track, and John nails every scream.  The guitarist also duplicates Mick Mars’ underrated solo, note for note.  Yes, underrated.  Mars is rarely given the credit he deserves for creating his own style, and thereby defining the sound of the Crue.

If you know the album then you know these songs; if you don’t then buckle the fuck up.

Through the single “Hooligan’s Holiday”, Corabi and Co. breath life into songs we only know from the album.  “Everybody wants a piece of the pie” — at least in this Nashville crowd they do, soaking up every riff and blistering scream.  Even the complicated “Misunderstood” burns it down.  Guitars instead of keyboards, backing band instead of Glenn Hughes, and it’s full speed ahead.  Once again the solo is note for note, but there’s a brand new outro where it once faded.

“Loveshine” is a bit of a respite, a nice little acoustic jam a-la Zeppelin III.  These last two songs are so far above and beyond what Motley Crue were capable of when Vince Neil was in the band.  Corabi opened up entire new soundscapes for them to explore, and “Loveshine” is cool on the psychedelic side.  Back to the rock, “Poison Apples” is a tribute to glam rock and what Motley Crue are about.  “Took a Greyhound bus down to Heartattack and Vine, with a fist full o’ dreams n’ dimes…”  Of all the tracks on Motley Crue, “Poison Apples” was the closest to the original Motley sound, and John owns it.

This is where you’d flip sides on the original album, so it’s the perfect spot for telling a story:  track 7,  “John Joins the Band”.  He got the call before it was even announced that Vince had left the band, and he couldn’t say a word to anybody.  One of the first songs they wrote together was “Hammered”, an old riff that John brought to the band.  Even darker is “Til Death Do Us Part”  which was actually supposed to be the title of the album at one point.  It’s one of many long bombers, but things lighten up a bit on “Welcome to the Numb”.  Dig that slide guitar riff, another very Zep aspect to this batch of songs.    By John’s intro, it sounds like a ball-baster of a song to play live.  He says they didn’t think they were going to be able to do it!  But they killed it, and John says that’s due to the hard work of guitarist Jeremy Asbrock.

Your head receives a good solid smack with “Smoke the Sky”, a waste-laying blitzkrieg of a smokeshow.  Corabi touts the health benefits of rolling a joint.  “Home grown version complements the senses, opens up my mind.”  Perhaps Peter Tosh put it better, when he sang “Birds eat it,” and “It’s good for the flu, it’s good for the asthma.”  Regardless of who said it best, “Smoke the Sky” is a flat-out mosh.

“Droppin’ Like Flies” continues the ass-kicking, but at a more sensible pace, trading speed for mass.  And although in theory it shouldn’t work, after this fairly relentless assault, the album always closes on a ballad called “Driftaway”.  After a sentimental version for the Nashville crowd, there’s a bonus track.  This is another ballad, “10,000 Miles Away” from the Japanese Quaternary EP, live for the first time.  Icing, meet cake.

This Corabi live album is far stronger than any of the three Motley Crue live albums.  In terms of performance, John’s band just kills Motley Crue.  Of course, they had a brilliant set to work with.  Finally hearing these songs live, and in album context, is a long fulfilled wish.  John Corabi has long been respected by the rock community and this CD is a testament to why.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Bump Ahead (1993)

MR. BIG – Bump Ahead (1993 Atlantic)

Living up to Lean Into It was never going to be an easy thing to do.  By the time 1993 rolled around, it didn’t even matter.  Mr. Big were going to be ignored no matter what they did.

There are no giant leaps and bounds on Bump Ahead, but there are enough decent rock thrills and ballads to call it a good album.  A lot of the heavy artillery is expended right on the first track, “Colorado Bulldog”.  An amped-up Van Halen shuffle is cranked to the max with the one and only Billy Sheehan pushing the whole thing on the bass.  It’s an insane affair of accelerated playing and a stomping riff.

“The Price You Gotta Pay” keeps it heavy, anchored by a patented Sheehan groove.  Eric Martin’s bluesy soul rasp gives the music accessibility, but there is plenty going on instrumentally too.  Fans of sheer playing will find plenty of challenging licks within.  Likewise, “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”.  It sounds like a redo of an old Talas song called “Smart Lady”, with a new improved chorus.  They lay down a granite groove on “Temperamental”.  Plenty of solid rock is to be heard here.

That said, let’s not kid ourselves.  Mr. Big made their money with ballads like “To Be With You”, and so they loaded the deck here with a few more.  “Promise Her the Moon” is sentimental, understated and classy.  The big one is Cat Stevens’ “Wild World”.  Mr. Big were not likely to blow it on a song this magnificent.  Their version is more lush than Stevens’, but is actually quite great.  They miss the mark on “Nothing But Love”; too syrupy with its guitar synth orchestra.  In a case of ballad overdose, there is a fourth:  “Ain’t Seen Love Like That”.  It’s one of those basic campfire ballads.  Good song, but not essential.

Bump Ahead has a bit more filler than preferred.  “What’s It Gonna Be” is fine funky rock, but the chorus is pedestrian.  They go a different direction on the psychedelic “Mr. Gone”.  Don’t forget this is the band that gave us “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind“, though “Mr. Gone” isn’t as perfect as that.

They close the album on the free cover “Mr. Big”, the song that gave them their name.  The grind of “Mr. Big” ends the album on an upstanding note, but damn, they should have cut one of those ballads doncha think?  The fact is, Mr. Big were simply not going to have a hit with a ballad in 1993.  Wasn’t gonna happen.  The Japanese edition had a bonus track called “Long Way Down”, which wasn’t that outstanding but perhaps should have been included in the main tracklist at the expense of a ballad.

3/5 stars.

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Hey Man (1996)

MR. BIG – Hey Man (1996 Atlantic)

With the recent passing of Pat Torpey, it’s definitely time for some fresh listens to classic Mr. Big.  Their most underrated album might be their fourth, Hey Man, on which Torpey had three writing credits.  1991’s Lean Into It is generally considered the highwater mark, but Hey Man boasted songs just as strong and many just as memorable.   If only MTV wasn’t avoiding Mr. Big and bands of their era like the bubonic plague.

Mr. Big were always ferocious musicians, and formed as a “supergroup” of such.  The point of Mr. Big was for these mega-instrumentalists to write some commercial rock, and that has been their modus operandi on every album.  When Mr. Big formed, Torpey already boasted two albums:  Ted Nugent’s If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em, and the supergroup Impelliteri.  Billy Sheehan was already worshipped for his work with David Lee Roth and before that, Talas.  Guitarist Paul Gilbert had established himself as a wunderkind with the Shrapnel band, Racer X.  The key ingredient to Mr. Big is the blue-eyed soul of singer Eric Martin.  He had a two album solo career before he made the unlikely jump to supergroup.

It’s the rocking side of Mr. Big that hits the ground running on first track “Trapped in Toyland”.  Heavier and grooving more than usual, Mr. Big poured the gas on the fire right off the bat.  It’s a huge impression.  Gilbert wrote this smoker with his old Racer X singer Jeff Martin, and Russ Parish of Fight (and now Steel Panther).  That would explain the heavy!  What really nails the heavy sound is the combination of Billy Sheehan’s bass rumble in conjunction with Torpey’s smashing beat.

The most stunning of all the songs is the second, a bonafide Mr. Big classic called “Take Cover”.  It simmers under an infrared pulse of drum beats and understated chords, and then bursts wide open on the choruses. It’s triumphant songwriting and a fine example of how musicianship and songcraft can work together.  It is one of their career best.

“Jane Doe” goes funky a-la “The Crunge”.  Eric Martin pushes it into soul on the choruses.  A couple ballads follow, one acoustic and one darker.  “Goin’ Where the Wind Blows” fills the slot of past Mr. Big acoustic ballads, something that had become compulsory after the success of “To Be With You”.  The more interesting song is “The Chain” which has a sombre edge.

There is an undeniable twang to “Where Do I Fit In?”, so much that it could easily be mistaken for Tesla.  It’s a solid side closer, though “sides” were becoming meaningless in 1996.  Hey Man has never seen a vinyl release, and the dying cassette version was the only one with “sides”.

Eric Martin makes it soulful on “If That’s What it Takes”, which doesn’t deserve to be called a ballad so we won’t.  It serves as a reminder of how these musicians can adapt to any situation.  The Paul Gilbert who plucks these earthy chords is the same guy who shred all over Lean Into It.  Pat Torpey turns into a human steamroller on “Out of the Underground”.  It’s as heavy metal as Mr. Big have been.  Then they go “Dancin’ Right Into the Flame” on a pretty cool ballad.  It has a bit more finesse than the usual.

You can tell immediately that “Mama D.” was written by Paul Gilbert, because it has one of those squirrly Gilbert guitar licks that only he writes.  To close the album, they return to a heavy soul-funk on “Fool Us Today”.  Pat Torpey is rock solid and a key ingredient to a fun closer.

Track for track, Hey Man can go up against most other Mr. Big albums.  They had a temporary breakup after this CD, a result of it being criminally ignored.

4/5 stars